The Month in Mines, October 2014Posted: November 20, 2014
Landmines have been called weapons of mass destruction in slow motion. This month’s stories, which report on casualties from landmines laid 70 years ago as well as just a few weeks ago, prove that adage. While heroic efforts are ongoing to clear the landmine contamination, emerging and continuing conflicts provide ample opportunity for new use.
As the Somali National Army (SNA) and various regional militias, supported by the peacekeeping (peacemaking?) forces of the African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), engage in a new offensive against Al Shabaab, we can expect to see reports of landmine use and asymmetrical warfare. In the Galgala mountain range of the semi-autonomous Puntland state, Puntland forces “flushed” Al Shabaab from the mountains that had been their base for several years. To defend their base, Al Shabaab had laid mines which killed one Puntland officer and injured two others (All Africa). In southern Somalia, an armored vehicle stuck a landmine outside of Kismayo; no injuries were reported (All Africa). And in the Shabelle region in the middle of Somalia, near the Ethiopian border, AMISOM forces struck a landmine in Marka town which resulted in at least a dozen civilian injuries and an unknown number of military casualties (Codka 24).
In addition to the military actions, a court sentenced a suspected Al Shabaab member to death for a plot to place a landmine in the Puntland town of Bosaso (Horseed Media).
Norwegian People’s Aid provided landmine clearance and detection training to 35 members of the Angolan army in Zaire province where some 6 million square meters of land need to be cleared (All Africa). In the first half of 2014, some 33,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance, including anti-personnel landmines, have been found and cleared in Zaire Province (All Africa). In Cunene Province, almost 350,000 square meters of land was cleared in 2013 by the National Demining Institute and in 2015, the Institute plans to clear another 10,000 hectares to enable expanded agricultural outputs (All Africa). In the central Bie Province, 174,000 square meters have been cleared of landmines over the last twelve months (All Africa).
Mali continues to see new use of landmines in the restive northern region where Islamists had briefly declared a caliphate before being dislodged by French forces. According to some sources, Islamists are paying US $200 to youths, who may or may not even be Muslim, who place landmines in the roadways used by the UN peacekeeping force, MINUSMA, in northern Mali. A bonus of US $1,000 is paid if a mine kills a French soldier (Le Monde). The MNLA, a Tuareg group that had sided with the Islamists and is now closer to joining the government’s coalition, had two members seriously injured by a landmine, when the vehicle they were riding is struck a mine near the northern city of Kidal (MNLA). Three Senegalese peacekeepers with MINUSMA were injured by a landmine also near Kidal; two were injured severely and transported to Dakar for treatment (Reuters).
The Sahrawi Ambassador to Algeria reported that Morocco had planted more than 5 million anti-personnel landmines and an unspecified number of anti-vehicle mines in the Western Sahara region while speaking at the opening of a photo exhibit of landmine clearance. The ambassador called on Morocco to assist in the clearance efforts (All Africa).
While the one lingering bright spot from the Arab Spring revolutions, Tunisia continues to struggle with its own Islamist insurgency based in the mountain ranges along the border with Algeria. The Tunisian military has been actively engaged in the conflict, but has not been able to defeat the rebels. Seven soldiers were injured by landmines in two separate incidents in the Sakiet Sidi Youssef area of Kef (All Africa; Cihan News Agency). In later reports from the military, a landmine explosion was acknowledged but no casualties were reported from the blast (All Africa).
The civil war in Libya (and to be honest, it’s probably multiple wars) has shifted focus away from Tripoli to Benghazi, the heart of the original uprising that toppled the Gaddhafi regime. As forces aligned with the internationally recognized government advanced on Benghazi, airstrikes and street to street fighting erupted. A soldier with the Libyan army was killed trying to defuse a landmine; unclear if the mine was newly laid or dated from the 2011 conflict or even earlier (All Africa).
In Sinai, where an insurgency has rumbled along since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, a child was killed by a landmine that was a suspected remnant from earlier wars (Arab Today). Also in Sinai, two women were injured by an anti-tank landmine near the border with Gaza (TNN). Despite these incidents and others in recent years, it is the minefields in western Egypt which date back to the tank battles of World War II that receive all of the attention and have caused the majority of casualties. A World War II landmine near the Libyan border injured eight Egyptians who were trying to cross into Libya seeking work (Ahram). The European Union allocated 4.7 million euros to support demining efforts in the western desert to support the government’s longstanding development plans for the region (All Africa). All told, there were more than 22 million landmines in Egypt, 17.5 million in the western desert and 5.5 million in Sinai; the Egyptian government has cleared 1.2 million mines over the last two decades (a rate which would mean that another two centuries are needed to clear the rest of the mines). In the last 15 years, over 8,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines making expedited clearance a necessity (Ahram).
Namibia has declared itself free of all known landmines, but the construction of a 200 kilometer highways faced some delays due to the suspected presence of unexploded ordnance in the right of way. This was a reminder that even if a country has completed its demining for anti-personnel landmines under the Mine Ban Treaty, the danger of unexploded ordnance of other types may remain (New Era).
Central African Republic
Sticking with countries we don’t mention too often in these pages, the Central African Republic will soon see an engineering contingent of Cambodian peacekeepers in the country. Among the Cambodians’ tasks will be demining which, as in Namibia, will likely focus on unexploded ordnance as there have been no reports of landmine use in the Republic despite the violence of the last couple years (and the many, many years previously) (First Post).
Kenya is also not a mine-affected country, but does have several military installations which have not been adequately marked and cleared. These installations include firing ranges where explosive ordnance was used to practice and when four herders passed through old ranges, one of them stepped on an unexploded piece of ordnance, causing it to explode and injuring all four (Baringo County-News).
With around 11 million landmines dating from World War II, the liberation war with the French and the civil war of the 1990s, Algeria was once one of the most mine-affected countries in the world. With up to 80,000 killed or injured by mines, Algeria has made massive efforts to address the problem, clearing 8 million mines as of 2000. Clearance operations were halted from the early 1990s until 2004 when demining resumed in earnest. Algeria anticipates meeting its Mine Ban Treaty deadline of clearing all anti-personnel mines by 2017 (Qantara). Algeria continues to make steady progress towards mine clearance with over 3,600 mines cleared in September alone by Algerian army units (All Africa). In the decade since demining resumed, almost 1 million mines have been cleared which would leave an estimate 2 million mines yet to be cleared (Arab Today).
Two Darfurian children died from alleged poisoning after touching a bomb dropped by the Sudanese Air Force near Jebel Marra. After picking up the bomb, they ate their dinner and died within half an hour of eating from vomiting and diarrhea. Other local reports suggest that livestock in the area suffer from paralysis, diarrhea and skin rashes. “The people in East Jebel Marra believe that the bombing by the Sudanese government has poisoned the drinking water, affecting the livestock” (Radio Dabanga). These allegations should be followed up on to determine the true causes of the deaths of these children and livestock. Poisoning of water or delivery of poisonous substances by bombing would represent egregious violations of human rights.
The Development Initiative (TDI) has launched a few new projects in South Sudan in partnership with the United Nations Mine Action Service. The projects include technical survey and landmine clearance and will provide emergency as well as long-term clearance capacity (TDI).
Democratic Republic of Congo
Of the more than twenty rebel groups to emerge and try to overthrow the Ugandan government since Yoweri Museveni seized power in 1986, one of the more obscure yet frightening is the Allied Democratic (or occasionally “Defence”) Front (ADF). From a base in the Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the ADF launched several daring raids in the late 1990s on police and military positions in western Uganda as well as an assault on a school in which students were abducted and forced to serve as child soldiers for the ADF. The ADF used mines to disrupt travel on the roadways and was subsequently defeated by the Ugandan army in a brief campaign linked to Uganda’s other adventures in the DRC. In very recent days, the ADF has re-emerged in the DRC where it is manufacturing its own landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) following designs used by Al Shabaab in Somalia. The ADF had been supported in the 1990’s by the government of Sudan in Khartoum as a proxy force against the government of Uganda (which was supporting rebels in South Sudan against Khartoum) and many of the ADF’s members were radical Islamists which is the link to Al Shabaab. In its current incarnation, the ADF’s mines and IEDs are taking a toll on the United Nations’ Force Intervention Brigade which had been deployed against the Congolese militia M23 and similar groups. It’s not clear how many people have been injured by ADF’s mines, but the attacks appear to have started in January 2014 (African Armed Forces).
Michael P. Moore
November 20, 2014
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org